A good dish of lasagna is one of the most satisfying meals I can imagine. But, to be honest, a dish of classic lasagna, whether it a southern style lasagna di Carnevale or a northern lasagne alla bolognese can be a bit on the heavy side, especially as the weather starts to get warmer.
That’s the beauty of a vegetable lasagna. If not exactly dietetic, it will be lighter than meat-based lasagna yet totally satisfying. You can make lasagna with almost any vegetable, but perhaps my favorite is lasagne agli asparagi, or Asparagus Lasagna, made with the most elegant and most toothsome of spring vegetables.
The basic technique for making Asparagus Lasagna is the same as for lasagne alla bolognese. (See this post for the recipe.) But here a combination of steamed asparagus tips and a purée made from the stalks replaces the ragù.
I’m not going to lie, making lasagne agli asparagi entirely from scratch is a project—especially the egg pasta—so this is definitely a special occasion dish. Using store-bought pasta sheets certainly saves time. And yes, I do that myself if I’m pressed for time. But if you want to make your meal, say an Easter dinner, really special, that bit of extra effort really pays off. .
Makes one large lasagna, enough for a crowd
- One batch of fresh egg pasta, made with 4 eggs, cut into large squares and parboiled (or a package of store-bought pasta sheets)
- One batch of béchamel sauce, made with 1 liter/1 quart of milk
- 2 bunches of asparagus
- Grated Parmesan cheese
Next, prepare the asparagus: Trim and peel the asparagus stalks, then boil, or better, steam them in lightly salted water until tender—not crisp tender or mushy, but fully tender. Cut off the tips and set them aside.
Purée the remaining asparagus stems in a blender or food processor with a few spoonfuls of the béchamel sauce until you have a smooth, pourable cream. (You can think out the purée if you need to with a spoonful or two of milk.) Season the purée generously with salt to taste—it should be quite savory.
Now assemble your lasagna just as you would classic lasagne. Place a layer of parboiled pasta in a well-buttered baking dish. Slather a thin layer of béchamel all over the pasta, followed by a layer of the asparagus purée, then place a few asparagus tips here and there. Finally, sprinkle generously with grated parmesan cheese over everything. You should wind up with something like this:
Keep on layering in this way until you have used up your ingredients, ending with a layer of pasta. (You should lay down no more four or five layers of pasta in all. This kind of lasagna should not be too thick.) Finally, top with a layer of béchamel, sprinkled generously with grated parmesan and dotted with butter.
Bake in a hot oven (400F/200C) for about 20 minutes or so, until the top is lightly browned.
Allow the dish to rest for 10-15 minutes before serving.
Notes on Asparagus Lasagna
The basic technique for Asparagus Lasagna is really quite easy once you get the hang of making the béchamel and fresh pasta. And it can almost be an every-day dish if you use store-bought fresh pasta, although, as I’ve commented before, finding true fresh egg pasta suitable for this kind of lasagna can be a challenge. No boil lasagna sheets tend to turn out a little too al dente, every rubbery. If you use no-boil lasagna sheets, make sure to make a rather loose béchamel and slather it abundantly over the pasta, as unboiled pasta absorbs a lot of sauce. I’ve even taken to parboiling supposedly no-boil pasta very briefly.
Another substitution that, however unorthodox, I find better are egg roll wrappers. Yes, egg roll wrappers! While they lack the rich egg flavor of homemade pasta, they have the same fine, silky texture as very fine homemade pasta. Add them directly to the baking dish, no pre-boiling necessary.
If you want a richer dish, you can sauté the asparagus tips in butter before adding them to the dish. You can make the dish even more savory by sautéing the asparagus purée in a soffritto of butter and shallots before folding in the béchamel. Or, instead of an asparagus purée, you can sauté both tips and stems in butter, along with a bit of shallot, and layer them both over the béchamel. And some versions of asparagus lasagna really go to town, laying down chunks of soft cheese like a fontina or Belpaese, and/or shredded prosciutto among the asparagus tips.
Other vegetables lasagnas
You can make all sorts of vegetable lasagne using the same basic method. For vegetables like mushrooms that don’t purée well, slice them thinly and sauté them in butter or oil, along with a bit of shallot, onion or garlic. In fact, almost any sautéed vegetable you might use as a side dish can do service as a stuffing for this kind of lasagna: mushrooms, artichokes, spinach, carrots, peas… Or even a combination of different vegetables. There is really no end to the variations you can dream up. And with all that lovely béchamel and butter, they are all delicious!
A tip (or two) …
It is very important to let the dish rest for some time before serving. Of course, the lasagna will be scalding hot fresh out of the oven. But, more importantly, a rest lets the dish firm up a bit. If you serve asparagus lasagna—or any lasagna—direct from the oven, it will tend to ooze apart when you serve it. The longer you wait, the firmer the dish will be. A 10-15 minute wait is the minimum, but you can let it rest for up to 30 minutes. And don’t worry, it will still be nice and warm.
Nota bene: For more tips on lasagna-making check out our post on lasagne alla bolognese.